After an abandoned bid to make the Olympic Games on the track, American Carmen Small has refocused her aspirations for Rio on the road, and her bid for selection to Team USA begins on Tuesday at the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, where she will race the individual time trial.
Small, a bronze medallist in Worlds in 2013 won a gold medal last year in the team time trial with Specialized-lululemon before turning her focus to the team pursuit and signing with Twenty16-Sho Air, so she could balance track and road. But when she fell ill before track worlds and couldn't start, she ended that experiment, and began to look into how she could get back into the European road scene. She moved to the Bigla Pro team during the transfer window this summer, and now has a two-pronged approach to qualify for Rio: land on the podium at Worlds, which will be difficult, or earn an automatic bid with a top results in the World Cup early next year.
Her chances in the individual time trial are tight, Small admits. She isn't sure where she stacks up against the competition, having not raced in Europe until the Giro Donne.
"It's been a crazy year so it's hard to anticipate what will happen," she told Cyclingnews. "I haven't had the most consistent year in a sense of a lot of racing. For me that's hard, because I can train a lot, but getting the race fitness is what I lack. But I can sit at threshold for like three hours, so in that sense, it's great that the race is longer for me. 30k is quite a long (time trial), so I'm excited about the length."
Small is wary of putting too much pressure on herself to get that podium spot, knowing that the quality of the women's time trial fields has improved in the last two years.
"I'm going to go into it and be positive, I've done the training, my bike is great. Everything is how it's supposed to be. Now I just need my legs to work, so hopefully that happens come race day."
Since the national championships, where Small finished in second place 13 seconds behind Kristin Armstrong, Small says she hasn't done a proper time trial against the best riders, so she isn't sure who could win.
"You can't count the Giro because that wasn't a normal time trial with a 4km climb, and you don't know who was just taking it easy because they weren't in GC. Of course Lisa [Brennauer] and Ellen [van Dijk] are huge favourites. It's a great course for them, they're true time triallists. But you never know. You can have surprise people, too. I was a surprise (in 2013). All the Americans, Evie [Stevens], myself and Kristin are super strong. The Germans are really strong, and you have Anna van der Breggen. She could win. You have a lot of really good time triallists right now. It will be an exciting day."
As for the Americans, Small says, "There's a huge potential that one of us will be in the top three, but I think it will be just one of us. The other countries are just too strong this year. There are some good time triallists this year. It's great to see, it's amazing that you can be such a specialist in the sport, kind of like the men, it's growing that much. It says a lot about women's cycling."
Small already plans to hit the first half of 2016 hard, doing a full European programme with Bigla in hopes of getting a result that would earn an automatic berth for Rio.
"I'll be over in Europe for the first race and stay as long as I'm allowed to. I was really excited to sign with Bigla again. It's a great program and it's a good spring classics team. so I think we can get a lot of good results there, and hopefully I can just get an automatic selection and be done with it."